Monday, May 10, 2010

The Other Men Who Wore Yellow, My Yellow

This is my 2000 Tour De France yellow jersey.  While there are many like it, this one is mine.  Few have seen it.  Ten years ago, a friend of mine worked as a broker for a bank in Amsterdam and through some connections came to own it.  When we visited, he passed the jersey onto me as a gift.  Ten years later, the color is still bright.  It’s never left my closet…except for once.  I couldn’t resist.  I put it on to see if it fit.  It did.  But I attest!  No one saw me, except for my wife and cats.  The honor of wearing this jersey in public still rests with the four men who wore it that year.  Yep.  Four.  Can you name them?  Without checking online? 

Digging into it, this jersey, even though it’s a commemorative one without the nifty full-zip in the back, has a story to tell.  Until a few weeks ago, I really only knew Lance Armstrong won the tour in 2000 and dreamed of getting this jersey signed by him, maybe with the help of some friends traveling to this year’s Tour of California.  The more I thought about it, as much of an icon status as Lance is and deserves, Lance’s command on the Tour de France blended years together.  During the Lance years, it wasn’t only Lance.  Many men wore the yellow jersey.  There was Ulrich and now Contador, and a whole list of other yellow jersey heroes with not so household names…the other men who wore yellow. 

Until a few weeks ago, the opportunity to get Lance to sign my jersey never presented itself.  He was in France, I was at home.  He was in Leadville.  I was…at home.  We couldn’t connect.  I though it’s time to seize the day.  Carpe Diem!  Then it occurred to me.  This jersey is not about chasing Lance.  This jersey signifies a 3 week battle for the highest honor in cycling.  In 2000, Lance didn’t win it on stage one and hold it till Paris.  There were 180 or so riders in the tour that year.  Of those, three others earned the Yellow jersey in 2000.  Wouldn’t it be great to get it signed by all four men: David Millar, Alberto Elli, Laurent Jalabert and Lance Armstrong?  Where are they now?  Who the heck is Alberto Elli?  I thought it’s possible that I might be able to have the jersey signed by Lance and David Millar at the Tour of California, but Alberto Elli and Jaja…oh brother.  This is a task that could consume a man for a lifetime. 

David Millar won the opening Time Trial in the 2000 Tour De France while racing for Cofidis.  Imagine that.  He beat Lance, the former winner, in a time trial.  I can’t picture him not wearing Argyle.  Millar’s now with the US based team Garmin-Transitions.  I assumed he’d be racing the Tour of California.  Not so according to the start list on the TOC website.  Dang it.  He’s racing the Giro and after a crazy stage 3, currently sits in 3rd overall one second behind Vino, the current maglia rosa wearer.  Good for him!  Clearly, Millar has bigger aspirations than the Tour of California.  Clearly, I’ll have to find another way to get Mr. Millar to sign my jersey.

I know Laurent Jalabert isn’t racing anymore, but maybe he’s involved somehow in cycling.  Maybe he’ll be at the Tour of California.  Well if you remember, Jaja wore yellow for ONCE in 2000 after winning the Team Time Trial.  In 2001, racing for CSC, the Frenchman won on Bastille Day, an honor in France that’s only 2nd to becoming a saint and comes with the benefits of free baguettes and wine for life.  In 2002 he retired after winning the polka dot jersey in the TDF.  In ’05 he finished 391st in the New York Marathon.  In ’07 and ’08 he competed in Iron Man triathlon events, finishing 76th at the World Championships in Kona.  Now Jaja is a commentator for French television.  Guess I’ll have to make arrangements for the jersey to return to France.

What about this other guy named Alberto?  Aside from being a handsome Italian, winning a stage in the 2000 Tour De Suisse and the overall in Tour de Luxembourg, Alberto Elli wore the yellow jersey for 4 days in the 2000 Tour De France as the 2nd oldest rider in the peloton.  2000 was Alberto Elli’s career defining year.  His savvy experience got him into a 12 man breakaway.  At the end of the day, the Duetsche Telekom rider was highest placed on GC and the yellow was draped across his shoulders without ever winning a Tour stage.  No doubt wearing the yellow in 2000 was the highlight of Elli’s career.  When the race kicked up into the Pyrenees, Lance took over the honor.  Then things went down hill.  In 2001 police found banned substances in Elli’s hotel room during the Giro.  In ’05, he was sentenced to 6 months in prison for the offense.  But, it’s 2010.  Maybe Elli’s still around.  He is.  Alberto Elli is currently the directeur sportif for Preti Mangimi Italian continental team.  I see a trip to Italy in my future.  I can deal with that.

So, while I’d be wobbly legged honored if Lance would lean across the security fence at the Radio Shack team bus at the Tour of California and sign my 2000 Tour De France yellow jersey, it would only be a start for this autograph seeker.  For better or worse David Millar, Laurent Jalabert and Alberto Elli are just as big of a part of my yellow jersey’s history as Lance.  The jersey deserves to meet them too and I’m a patient man.

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